A Madurese keris hilt, carved from dark hardwood in the form of a Dutch cuirassier.
Sheathed 104 cm
Sword 96 cm
Base 6 mm
Middle 4 mm
Near tip 3 mm
Base 25 mm
Middle 20.5 mm
Near tip 15 mm
from handle side of guard
Nguyen dynasty, Vietnam
Steel, silver, wood, mother of pearl, lacquer, pigment, gold, brass, resin
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The Vietnamese kiêm is closely related to the Chinese jian of the Ming dynasty. Both double-edged straightswords, worn by an elite class of scholar-officials. In Vietnam, highly ornamental Vietnamese kiêm such as this one were carried by officials and their retainers at official ceremonies held during the Nguyễn dynasty.
A nice Vietnamese kiêm of the Nguyen dynasty. It has a narrow blade with a springy temper. It has two grooves at the forte that gradually fade while the blade turned to a ridged cross-section. In profile the blade reminds strongly of Chinese jian of the Ming dynasty, while the blade cross section is reminiscent of some European swords. It has a triangular tip with shallow angle, also much like Ming swords as seen in artwork. Most of these have a purely ceremonial blade, but this blade is certainly functional for the duel and handles a bit like a heavier smallsword. At the base of the blade is a silver sleeve.
The sword is fitted in a set of silver fittings in repoussé, decorated with dragon among foliage. On guard and pommel, the dragon face carries a plaque in its mouth with a stylized longevity character on it. The handle is covered with gold foil and pigment suspended in a transparent lacquer with brown pigment, the whole imitating tortoise shell but with the added sparkle of real gold. As is often the case with these, there are some dents in the silver sheet, mostly at the guard. See pictures.
The dark hardwood scabbard is decorated with highly complex inlays in mother-of-pearl in the form of complex vines with thin, curling tendrils, leaves, grapes and butterflies. There are also some critters, probably squirrel, to be found among the foliage. The butterflies symbolize long life, beauty, and elegance. The work is of admirable quality, the craftsman showing off his skills by making some rather long and complex sections out of a single piece of mother of pearl. Some minor losses to some areas of the mother of pearl. See pictures.
There are two scabbard mounts decorated with floral themes and dragons. Normally these have an additional scabbard mount in the middle, missing on this example. This is somewhat strange. When a scabbard mount gets lost, it's usually one at an extremity. The patina suggests it's been either gone for a long time or wasn't there to start with.
A nice example of a Vietnamese straightsword or kiêm, in pretty good condition. It has an interesting handle with lacquer over gold foil. The mother of pearl inlays are very well done, and with only few losses. The blade is a rarer, serviceable type. Light, but good enough for self-defense.
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